After the past year of Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests, one of the early cases of police brutality finally makes its way into trial. Check out this article about the jury selection in the prosecution of the “former Minneapolis police officer who faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd.” Did you notice the makeup of the jury? “The seven jurors consist of three white men, one white woman, one Black man, a Hispanic man and a multiracial woman.” That one sentence says a lot about what we might expect, but one should pay attention to the other details given. The piece is fairly decent reporting, although even greater detail would’ve been preferable, as what goes unstated speaks loudly.
In case one has been living in a cave and is unfamiliar with this incident of police brutality, it should be noted that the victim was a black male and the defendant is a white male, the latter being a person intentionally left unnamed here as he deserves to be forgotten beyond his status as an anonymous figure of an unjust system of racial and class oppression. One might add, to be fair, that there have been plenty of non-white women and poor whites who also have been targeted by police (in fact, combined they form the majority of such incidents), if they don’t receive the same attention in the corporate media and political discourse, unfortunately but as expected.
Right from the start, there is a bias in what is reported in the ‘mainstream’ news and what is ignored. For various reasons, the “black male” has been chosen as the stereotypical stock character for the controlled narrative agreed upon by the media and political elite. Rather than the authoritarian system being on trial, it becomes a debate within the white patriarchy about which male bodies are of value and which can be sacrificed (the bodies of women and poor whites being less directly relevant to the system of power as defined). The tricky part is that the white patriarchy, in order to maintain its rule, must present itself as if it doesn’t exist. So, the real debate is whether this guardian of the white patriarchy overstepped the respectable bounds of allowable oppression in making violence too blatant to be rationalized away according to the ruling rhetoric of perception management.
Anyway, the jury consists of five men and two women. And that includes at least four whites, one non-white, and two others who might or might not identify as white to some extent. Even the one black is an upper middle class professional. None of these people appear to be either poor minorities or to otherwise be typical victims of systemic prejudice and violent oppression. There is no evidence that any of these jurors have had personal experience or direct witnessing of police profiling, police brutality, etc. There is no evidence that any of these jurors lives in an impoverished and segregated neighborhood that has been treated as a war zone with militarized policing, along with racial profiling, school-to-prison pipelines, mass incarceration, etc. Their perception of these issues is, therefore, likely to be mediated secondhand through the ruling narratives of corporate media and so would carry predictable biases.
Basically, it’s mostly a jury of men and whites, and probably mostly middle class. Yet there is no place in the entire country where the majority of the population consists of middle class white males. Since this officer is a middle class white male, does a jury of peers mean everyone else also should get a jury of their peers as defined by their own demographics of identity politics? If that were true, then why don’t most female defendants, most non-white defendents, and most poor defendants get juries consisting mostly of women, non-whites, and the poor? Heck, maybe more than the defendant it is the victim, as a silenced and opressed minority, who needs and deserves a jury of peers or, failing that, a jury representing the fuller spectrum of the American population — assuming this legal system is a justice system.
With that in mind, it’s telling that there was not a single juror who didn’t have some pro-police sympathy, even among the few that nominally agreed that black lives matter. What really stood out was that apparently not a single juror agreed with the BLM message that police departments are systematically racist and need to be reformed, even though that specific BLM message is supported by the majority opinion of Americans in diverse polling, even from Fox News. This seems like a case where the moral majority and demographic majority was pre-selected to be excluded from the jury, whether consciously and intentionally or simply through in-built biases. As the American public, we really need to publicly understand why this happens, but that would require the possibility of actual public debate, the one thing that the ruling order can never allow.
Here is the problem, in practical terms. Even if this unrepresentative jury comes to a guilty verdict, as it might, it’s unlikely to be the strongest verdict they could come to, as it’s clear they are going into this with a probable tendency to side with the police in at the very least offering the benefit of the doubt, as based on the normative assumption that the official authority of police violence is to be assumed justified until proven unjustified (a normative assumption not shared by many other Western countries where police violence is less accepted as a normalized fatalistic inevitability). The officer is likely to get a slap on the hand or some extremely minimal sentence. This jury, like the elite that helped select them, appears to be to the right of the general public. They may not be far right and so might have less imbalance than in other cases. But why does the elite system always somehow manages to define the ‘center’, the ‘moderate’, the ‘reasonable’, and the ‘normal’ as being on the right?
Biased jury selection and the scripting of trials, as part of narratized social reality, is a great example of how perception management as propagandistic mind control (and hence social control) is enacted in practice. It’s similar to how the corporate media and corporatist parties get to select which candidates are allowed to participate and which excluded (as silenced into disenfranchised non-existence within public perception) in televized political debates during presidential campaigns. This kind of process is so subtle as the public only sees the end product, but not how the sausage is made. The establishment system of the status quo operates invisibly, as a default mechanism of how the system is designed. The results, within a narrow range, are largely predetermined or constrained. It’s yet another way that democratic self-governance is made impossible, not only in socipolitical reality but also in public imagination.
Doing a web search on jury selection bias, a massive amount of results come up, not limited to articles but also academic papers and scientific research. It’s been a heavily studied area, as one would expect. It’s the type of thing that could be used as a topic for a lengthy analysis in exemplfying a larger system of corruption and injustice; but the motivation to do so is lacking and, instead, we’ll keep it as a more casual commentary. Still, one could support all of the claims made here with endless evidence, not that it would make any difference and not that any new insight could be added to the vast literature already written over the decades. Anyone here visiting this blog is likely part of the silenced majority who was not invited to the table of power. This post is not going to shape the debate and decisions at the elite level. Still, we should continue to speak truth to power, if only screaming into the void or preaching out in the wilderness, as we never know what might finally break through the silencing.
This topic makes one think of a lot of things about our society. We know about problems of racism, inequality, corporatism, corruption, climate change, etc. Most Americans, typically a large majority, understand these problems and agree we should do something about them. Also, the scholarship in these fields often shows a consensus among the experts. Yet, the ruling elite ensures that nothing ever changes. And the corporate media never allows much public debate about it. It feels so disorienting. It creates a schizoid experience of reality, what one knows in one’s experience and in relating to other Americans versus what one is told is true in the dominant media and politics. Another trial about injustice can feel like yet more spectacle to distract us with no repurcussions for the system of injustice, no matter the outcome of the trial itself. At best, this individual police officer could be prosecuted and, at worst, he could be made into a scapegoat. This could be taken as further proof of our powerlessness, if we let it stand without challenge and without voicing protest.